Ask the grumpies: What acceleration to prioritize and what about when they return to school?

Chelsea asks:

We are homeschooling because of high rates of transmission in our area and because my kids don’t sit in front of computer screens and pay attention well (TV on the other hand…). I have a question about a kid with mismatched skill levels. My DC2 just started K (will be 6 in Nov) and has very mismatched math and language levels. He’s a pretty normal Kindergartener as far as reading and writing goes (can write simple words but handwriting is terrible, can read sight words and is learning word families) but he has very good number sense and will probably be ready to start Singapore Math 2nd grade in a few weeks.

I guess the question is… should I care or try to do anything about the mismatched skill level? Like back off on math time and push reading and writing more? Or just roll with it and figure that his reading skill will catch up? DC1 made huge strides in reading in 1st grade so I assume this will probably happen for DC2…

Also, both of my kids are working ahead of their grade – at least for some things. DC1 is in 2nd grade and doing Winning With Writing and Growing With Grammar 3rd grade, etc. What should I do when they go back to school? Should I try to maintain what we’ve learned through homework (which is unappealing because they will have school homework, too)? Not really worry about it? I don’t think grade skipping is something that is done here, nor do I really think it’s what we want because I’m not sure they are ahead in every way (especially in maturity).


I’m of two minds about letting kindergarteners just explore their interests and… helping give kindergarteners the skills they need to be able to discover new interests.  I mean, learning how to read is BIG and opens up huge wonderful worlds to explore.  It’s basically necessary for everything else.  So, I’d say in this case, so long as the kid is happy with it, add some phonics.  Since he likes TV, get a copy of the Leapfrog DVDs and learn their wonderful phonics songs by heart.  Sing them while doing chores.  As you continue to read to your child, putting your finger under the words you’re reading while you do it, reading may just happen on its own without additional upper-level instruction (We loved the Step into reading readers, like Too Many Dogs and Cat Traps — way more interesting than the dreadful Bob books).  A good phonics foundation is important, but there’s no reason not to start off in a way that is easy on you and fun for the kid.  No need to add any upper-level workbooks unless you and the child want to.  We also had some fun phonics puzzles where the kids matched a picture of an animal with the name of an animal, that sort of thing.  And definitely no need to cut back on math to make room for reading– just swap in some educational videos for TV and reading together for family time.

In the more general question… should you try to keep everything even, or allow single subject acceleration… What we have generally done:  If we think there’s going to be a grade skip, we push on anything that is not on level for the next year (like memorizing facts about who “invented” the steamboat in the US).  If one of the kids is behind on something (like spelling or grammar or Spanish or handwriting or typing) because it wasn’t picked up in the schools, we supplement for that, at least up to grade-level.  For acceleration, we mostly focus on making it so they’re not bouncing off the walls.  I love math and both my kids are interested in math, so it has been easier to push them on math than on other things (though DC2, the only artist in the family, has been using youtube to help explore that side of creativity, and DC1 has an extensive and growing knowledge of magic tricks).  So, for the most part, we have a baseline level of what we expect them to have, and we make sure they’re at that baseline, then we accelerate in things they (or I) find more interesting.  But a lot of it is about getting rid of some of their energy so they don’t start moving things with their minds like in Matilda.

When they get back to school, play it by ear.  You may want to talk to the teachers about if they do single subject acceleration or if they do differentiation and clustering within the classroom.  They may need to have new placement tests.  Also look ahead:  testing out of fifth grade math is REALLY common in our school district… in DC1’s year they had two full classes of seventh grade algebra because of it.  If something like that is common, you may want to make sure you keep up with the math and fill any missing gaps.  If school is challenging enough, then only supplement if they want it.  Currently we have DC2 doing a full set of workbooks on weekends, but only Singapore Math (on grade level currently) during the week.  Since zie only does a page a day instead of a full lesson a day it doesn’t generally take that long after everything else is done.  When school wasn’t challenging enough, we had more supplementation during the week.  DC1 finished a round of handwriting practice this summer because hirs was atrocious but zie doesn’t have any other outside-of-school assignments because zie gets enough at school (as a sophomore) now and isn’t super behind on anything.

Grumpy Nation, what are your thoughts?  Anyone in a similar situation, what are your plans?  Philosophically, how do you feel about whether to allow a single subject to be super accelerated vs. making subject learning levels more even?

14 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: What acceleration to prioritize and what about when they return to school?”

  1. Michael Nitabach Says:

    I hope you got yr magician child an awesome magician hat!!!

  2. Chelsea Says:

    Thanks for your reply! I think that having more fun/engaging phonics activities is the place we will start. We do have a few phonics-learning books designed to appeal, but they are pretty terrible (think Lego Batman Phonics). I think there is also a dynamic where DC1 wants to be the one who is “good at reading” so DC2 wants to be the one that is “good at math”, but hopefully having reading activities that DC2 actually wants to do (and feels successful at) will help nip that in the bud.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Oooh, we have a post on that last thing somewhere! (with regards to which family member is good at math)

      The correct dynamic is, “People in our family are good at both”

      I will see if I can find it.

    • Katie Says:

      I don’t have advice, but I have a question! When you say your kid does a page of Singapore math each day, would that be the Primary Math textbook and/or workbook? Is that generally math they understand already, are they figuring it out themselves based on the textbook, or are you teaching it? If you teach it, how long do you usually spend on it each day.

      I also have a kindergartner at home. She’s enrolled in virtual public school, but I’ve also been doing a homeschool kindergarten math curriculum with her since she aged out of preschool in mid-August, just because we both like math and we needed something to do. I’m starting her on Singapore 1A soon (probably Dimensions, maybe Primary Math though). I’m wondering whether we’d be able to transition that to an after-school enrichment activity once she’s back at in-person school, dependent on her interest level and my time. (Though I’d be surprised if her district goes in-person before spring, if at all…)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        That depends on the kid and what else is going on. DC1 usually did an “exercise” a day in the workbook. DC2 usually does just a single page (DC2 is a bit more rebellious). BUT when DC2 isn’t getting enough mental activity or when DC1 was overwhelmed with other stuff, we’d do the opposite (or if really overwhelmed, Singapore math would switch to just weekends during the school year).

        Early on, we would go through the textbook each day they had a new exercise. Right now with DC2 we only do that when it’s something that DC2 doesn’t already know (this is because DC2 is a bit rebellious and doesn’t want to spend time on the textbook if the workbook is clear enough). But in the early years there is quite a bit of difference in how Singapore math approaches things and how school approached things so we did do the textbook every day. Now (4b) that’s less of an issue with a few exceptions.

        So… we’ve played it by ear with both kids. It depends on where they are, what else is going on in their lives, and how tractable they’re being. Early on, there was a lot more new stuff in new ways that we taught with the textbook, as it got later, they would be able to figure things out just from the workbook or from reading the text themselves, though we would sometimes still need to explain things.

      • Katie Says:

        Thanks! Your flexible approach makes a lot of sense.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Whenever DC2 (grade 4) complains that DC1 (high school) doesn’t have to do homework books anymore, we remind hir that in grade 4, DC1 was doing a whole section of Singapore math each day, including the extremely lengthy reviews and if zie wants to be more like DC1 zie can do that…

    • Katie Says:

      Ha, we have those very same Lego Batman phonics books, and I think they actually did help get my kindergartner over that first hump of decoding words! Not sure if you’re looking for more computer time, but her school has her doing Lexia Core 5 (an online phonics/reading strategies program), and it seems effective for more comprehensive phonics instruction.

  3. nicoleandmaggie Says:

  4. Lisa Says:

    One of our kids was super-behind on reading and didn’t really read at all until late 3rd grade. We got him audiobooks because then he could still develop vocabulary, ideas, and a sense of narrative and get him closer to grade level. In 9th grade, he still listens to audiobooks fairly frequently. Our 5th grader is obsessed and carries my phone around the house listening to Ramona Quimby, Big Nate, and her other favorites while she takes a bath or paints (or even when she’s reading another book!). I highly recommend it as a way to foster a love of books.

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